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story.lead_photo.caption Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is a nonentity in the schoolyard but destined for much bigger things in Joe Cornish’s The Kid Who Would Be King.

With Attack the Block, writer-director Joe Cornish proved alien invasion movies could still be vibrant and scary.

He does a similar thing with The Kid Who Would Be King, and the results are equally clever and entertaining. Fans of Arthurian legends will enjoy nods to more obscure portions of the myths, and their offspring will enjoy that rare film that takes a sort of courtly respect to their intelligence.

The Kid Who Would Be King

86 Cast: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris, Angus Imrie, Patrick Stewart, Rebecca Ferguson

Director: Joe Cornish

Rating: PG, for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language

Running time: 2 hours

Just as Attack the Block made as much of contemporary London as it did its otherworldly invaders, The Kid Who Would Be King effortlessly finds room for pagan magic and ancient codes of honor in today's English capital.

Young Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) has the usual difficulties of struggling with playground bullies (Tom Taylor and Rhianna Dorris) and his parents' messy divorce. Recounting The Lord of the Rings with his pal Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) relieves some of the gloom, but his existence becomes even more challenging when he discovers a sword stuck in a pillar at a demolition site.

He easily draws the weapon from the concrete and finds himself scrambling for cover as skeletal knights pursue him. And he meets a new friend named "Mertin" who speaks in a stilted manner that makes one assume the lad has swallowed an old volume of Chaucer. It doesn't take much effort to figure out that the strange young man and the sword that predates the building are related. What does make Cornish's update worthwhile is that it throws in lots of nods to the ancient tales and new characters who seem just as convincing as the special effects.

The Kid Who Would Be King is as much about dealing with grief for people who are still living (like Alex's estranged father) as it is about defeating Arthur's evil half-sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson). Because Alex's real world problems seem credible, it's easier to get worked up about his sudden advancement as England's sovereign.

Ashbourne Serkis' able performance certainly helps. Both of his parents are actors, and he's a dead ringer for his father, Andy. Apparently he has inherited some of his dad's skill as well.

Monty Python got lots of sarcastic chuckles by reveling in how nonsensical much of the Arthurian legends are. Cornish gets some laughs by poking fun at wizardry that seems wimpy compared to what an iPhone can do. Nonetheless, he treats Alex's attempts to step into Arthur's spurs with refreshing sincerity. Alex may stroll by a street sign that reads "Mallory" (the author of several Arthurian tales), but he never belabors the joke.

As with Attack the Block, Cornish reminds viewers that people who do things we don't like aren't necessarily evil. In the previous film, this attitude made the storyline more fluid and surprising. Here, Cornish teaches youngsters that much of what divides us is not worth the hate and the grief we carry.

MovieStyle on 01/25/2019

Print Headline: The Kid Who Would Be King

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